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I’m thrilled to be a part of the 2011 Transform Symposium at the Mayo Clinic Center For Innovation beginning Sunday. I will be leading two sessions there: a panel discussion on the 5 over 50 project on healthy aging, and another on the new AIGA Design for Good initiative. The symposium will be a convergence of the leaders in the healthcare and design space. Winterhouse Institute’s Bill Drenttel has programmed the event which will feature presentations by Larry Keely of Doblin, Chris Hacker of Johnson & Johnson, Dondeena Bradley of Pepsico, and Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management. Sessions are also being led by Continuum and GE. Journalist John Hockenberry, who has a rich history emceeing design conferences after many years of playing that role at AIGA conferences, will facilitate.

This is an important time for designers to be able to clearly articulate our unique value in developing creative ways to live healthier. The challenges in healthcare are massive and a design-driven approach—within a multi-disciplinary setting—can yield possibilities that are invisible through traditional approaches. It will be exciting to see what the leaders in this vital space are working on.

In addition to Transform, I have a busy travel and presentation itinerary in the coming months, including:

Designing Change. Changing Design
AIGA Kansas City
Monday, September 19

Merge Mashup
AIGA Cleveland
Friday, September 23

Elevate Series
AIGA South Dakota
Tuesday, September 27

From Understanding to Design and Back Again
Cumulus Conference
Denver, CO
September 29-October 2

Nobody stages a design conference like AIGA, and the recent Gain Conference on Design and Business in New York City was no exception. With the mesmerizing MoMA design curator, Paola Antonelli as moderator and an A-list of talent parading across the stage, the design cred of this event was as towering as the nearby Empire State Building—a fitting capstone to a week that was bursting with design events in the Big Apple. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions the same cannot be said about the business side of this dual-themed, bi-annual gathering. With the tagline “Design (Re)Invents,” my hope was that designers would tell their transformational business tales with a level of detail, depth, and openness that would begin to illuminate the path forward for their peers. Instead, the content and dialogue focused mostly on creative inspiration and outcomes.

Larry Keeley of the consultancy Doblin, was a refreshing exception when he uttered the most essential line of the conference for me, “clients always disappoint,” during his engaging talk entitled Design That Matters: Finding Fresh Frontiers. “The highest, best use of design is not design products per se but embedding (design) into a bigger challenge,” Keeley continued. But this explicit connection between design inspiration and business goals was rare at Gain. While Antonelli’s fluency with the language of design was breathtaking (especially in her awesome Italian accent), the same cannot be said for her understanding of the business world; at one point having to ask Foodspotting co-founder Soraya Darabi to clarify the meaning of the term “ROI.” Several speakers seemed eager to push their post-presentation Q&A with Antonelli in a substantive business direction, but she was either unable or uninterested in taking the bait.

For me, the highlight of the conference came during the fast-paced “(Re)Invention Ten,” during which ten designers were given two minutes each to tell their story of transforming their design business. Half of the ten actually delivered on the premise with stories that struck the balance between inspiration and content that I wish would have been present throughout the conference. Here’s a highlight reel of those entrepreneurial “(Re)Invention Five.”

Bill Grant, The Store at Grant Design Collaborative
I wrote about The Store at Grant Design Collaborative in a Merge post in August of 2009. The Store, which was the result of a series of business set-backs (a lost tenant, and sluggish client work), continues to thrive and grow in surprising and impressive ways. Most interesting to me is the effect this visionary project appears to be having on the traditional GDC business.

Julie Hirschfeld, Adeline Adeline
A New York based designer with an impressive history working with top brands like VH1, Nike, and Conde Nast, Julie Hirschfeld noticed a hole in the market for bike shops: a retail experience that appeals to women (and those of us not interested in the off-putting blend of macho-hipster-arrogance that is so common in that category). The result: Adeline Adeline, a bicycle sales, service, and accessories boutique in TriBeCa. Here’s a link to a Well+GoodNYC post about the shop.

Zia Khan, Kenari
Founder and principal of Atlanta-based creative agency, Lucid Partners, Zia Khan has ventured into unknown, but extremely relevant, territory with the Kenari Neighborhood Food System. The Kenari vision combines small farms based in suburban neighborhoods, with a support network that includes retail locations and commercial community kitchens. The pilot program for Kenari is underway in Roswell, Georgia.

Laura Shore, Mohawk Fine Paper’s Pinhole Press
What does a business do when their product becomes optional? With the traditional market for fine papers evaporating (who actually prints their annual report any more?), Mohawk has been forced to encounter this daunting reality. With the launch of Pinhole Press, their new online service for upscale, design-sensitive, on-demand photo books and postcards, Mohawk is now a player in this new booming category.

Cliff Sloan, Phil & Co
After a successful career leading creative agencies, Cliff Sloan found himself craving the meaning and passion that can be so evasive for mid-career designers. Founded in 2008, Phil & Co specializes in bringing together non-profits in need of visibility and support, with businesses looking to fulfill their mission to give back to the community.

I had the pleasure of co-leading a workshop at the recent AIGA Gain Conference in NYC along with the amazing Mateo Neri. As promised, here are some references related to the remarkably rich and dynamic discussion we had that day—special thanks to all in attendance for your great contributions!

3 Books:

  1. The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
  2. The Design Entrepreneur by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico
  3. Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

3 Blogs:

  1. AVC: Musings of a VC in NYC by Fred Wilson
  2. 30 Second MBA on
  3. The New Entrepreneur on

3 Twitter “Follows:”

  1. @VentureHacks
  2. @HelenWalters
  3. @ProjectM

3 Random Resources

  1. Startup Weekend
  3. BPC: Biz Plan Competitions

It was an unexpected surprise and pleasure to be asked to present at the Dot Dot Dot event by the School of Visual Arts MFA Interaction Design program last month at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn. The vibrant format included (roughly) 10-minute presentations by five different entrepreneurs each working in a different creative profession. I was joined in the program by Jay Parkinson, co-founder of Hello Health and founder of the new design consultancy The Future Well; Laureen Barber, co-founder of the restaurant Blue Hill Farm in lower Manhattan; Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter; and Robert Fabricant, executive creative director of Frog Design.

Despite the restrictive format (or maybe because of it), the evening was rich with big ideas about how designers and creative thinkers are solving thorny problems. I’ve written about Jay Parkinson before and I continue to be blown away by his pragmatic grasp of the health care system and how it can change for the better. I am hoping to write more about Kickstarter in the near future because it is another sign of the encouraging trend of peer-to-peer lending as a new possibility for start-up funding. Blue Hill Farm is quite simply exquisite in every possible way (and I can now say so with absolute authority). And Robert Fabricant’s refreshing portrayal of the creative process was filled with wisdom and wit.

Here’s Jay Parkinson’s presentation from the event. The rest of them can be viewed here: Dot Dot Dot: The Entrepreneurs

I really wanted to love this conference. After all, it had the makings of the ideal design gathering for the Spring of 2010: A top-notch line-up of speakers from the design and business worlds, including some of my heroes, old and new (designer, Stefan Sagmeister; venture capitalist, Fred Wilson; Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey); a first-class venue (The Times Center in midtown Manhattan); a focus on the “how” of the creative process rather than the “what;” and all viewed through the lens of trendiest trend site Cool Hunting and the white hot creative consulting firm Behance. Plus the reviews of last year’s 99% were ecstatic.

How could this be anything but spectacular?

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